I have been thinking lately about how the world of reputation has been changing or not. One of my constant thoughts is about how companies now seem in greater control of their own reputation narratives. Whereas we used to be so dependent on the media to report a company’s coming and goings, companies now seem to be in the driver’s seat of storytelling. This was confirmed to me the other day when I came across it from a different perspective. In an interview with former Wall Street Journal Deputy Editor and Executive Editor Alan Murray and now president of the Pew Research Center (an organization I dearly value), he said: “In the 2012 race for the White House, journalists played a decreasing role in what voters heard about the presidential candidates. Only about a quarter of the statements in the media about the character and record of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney came directly from journalists, while about half come from political partisans. In the 2000 election, half the statements came from journalists and only about one-third from partisans.” Of course, 2000 was before the Internet took off, Facebook appeared and Twitter surfaced.
Yet, the same can be said about companies’ character and record today. I bet that about half of the information we hear about companies’ comings and goings comes from stories we find online, stories our friends and family share with us and search engines that filter information by popularity or some sort of algorithm I cannot explain. And I’d bet that only one-quarter or less of a company’s story or reputation-telling comes from in-depth reporting from the media. This newfound advantage gives companies a greater opportunity than ever before to build or re-build their reputations. And because CEOs can use their websites, video or social media without having to win the media’s seal of approval, leaders have a home court advantage that is unassailable.
In some sense you could say that this is the Golden Age of Corporate Storytelling. However, the question I keep asking myself is how many stories does it take to build a positive reputation and bury the negative? What does it take for a company story to break through the clutter of facts, rumors, innuendos and misinformation online and offline? How do you hold stakeholders’ attention when they are so increasingly distracted? If everything matters today, what one thing should a company do well to build its reputation? Where do we start and where do we end?